Change of Status

When you enter the United States in nonimmigrant status, you do so for a specific purpose, such as study, work, or travel. You may enter the US with one purpose and later change your purpose. When this happens, you may need to obtain a new status. Different visa/status categories allow different activities.

Contact ISSS as soon as you know you must obtain a new status. The process can be challenging, and we want to discuss your options with you.

There are two ways of gaining a new nonimmigrant status:

Option 1

Leave the US, apply for a new visa at a US consulate, and reenter the US with the new visa and other relevant documents. You will gain your new status when you are admitted into the US.

  • Advantages
    • This process is usually faster than changing status in the US
    • You will obtain the visa and the status
  • Disadvantages
    • Possibility of visa processing delay
    • Expense of travel 

Option 2

Submit an application to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for a change of status. This option allows you to change your nonimmigrant status while remaining in the US. With this option you may gain the new status but you will not receive a new visa; visas are only issued outside the US.

  • Advantages
    • Ability to stay in the US during processing
    • Avoid the hassle of a visa application process (for now)
  • Disadvantages
    • Processing can be very slow (three to six months), which may jeopardize your ability to begin your new activity, such as studying or accepting a research or teaching assistantship or other campus employment.
    • You must stay in the US during processing; exiting the US cancels the application
    • You must still obtain a visa stamp to match your status the next time you travel outside the US (except for trips under 30 days to Canada or Mexico)
    • The application may be denied, which could require you to quickly depart the US

When deciding which option is best for you, you should consider various factors: upcoming travel plans, application processing times, the expiration date or special conditions of your current status. The regulations of your future status will help determine if it is best to travel and re-enter or apply to change status in the US. The following general information explains the process for applying to change nonimmigrant status in the US.

Eligibility

You may be able to change status if:

  • You are maintaining your current status
  • You are eligible for the new status
  • Your current status does not prohibit change of status in the US

 

You generally cannot change status if:

  • Your period of authorized stay has already expired
  • You have otherwise violated the conditions of your current status

 

Restrictions

  • Individuals in J status who are subject to the two-year home-country residence requirement can change only to A or G status.
  • Persons admitted under the Visa Waiver Program (marked "W/T" or "W/B" on the I-94) cannot change to nonimmigrant status.
  • Persons who hold C, D, or K status cannot change to nonimmigrant status.
  • A vocational student in M status cannot change to F status.

Applying for Change of Status

Contact ISSS regarding your change of status. Form I-539 Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status is used to apply for change of status. You may submit your own change of status application or an immigration attorney can handle your application.

  • Processing Timeline: Processing times vary, so be prepared to wait three to six months to learn the outcome of your application. To review current processing times and your pending case status, visit the USCIS Case Status Service Online.
  • Approval or denial: USCIS will notify you of their decision with Form I-797 Notice of Action. The I-797 is an important document and should be kept with your passport and I-94 card. The denial letter or approval notice will be mailed to the address listed on Form I-539 in your application. Note that if you change your address, the postal service will not forward mail sent to you by USCIS.  Please provide ISSS with a copy of your I-797/Notice of Action and approval notice.
  • Remaining in the US during processing:  You may remain in the US while your application is pending, even if your original status expires during the application processing.
  • Travel outside the US while application is pending: Do not travel outside of the US while your change of status case is pending. If you leave the country, USCIS will consider your application abandoned.
  • Travel outside the US after application is approved: In order to re-enter the US after a trip abroad (except for brief trips to Canada or Mexico under 30 days), you must visit a US embassy or consulate to request a new visa to match your new status. Contact ISSS for information about documents and procedures for re-entering the US.
  • Employment eligibility: Do not begin employment, if permitted under the new status, until the change of status is approved.

 

Page Updated 11.22.2017